U.S. consumer price growth slowed sharply in April as gasoline prices eased off record highs, suggesting that inflation has probably peaked, though it is likely to stay hot for a while and keep the Federal Reserve’s foot on the brakes to cool demand.
The consumer price index rose 0.3% last month, the smallest gain since last August, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. That stood in sharp contrast to the 1.2% month-to-month surge in the CPI in March, which was the largest advance since September 2005.
But the deceleration in the CPI is probably temporary. Gasoline prices, which accounted for most of the pull back in the monthly inflation rate, are rising again and were about $4.161 per gallon early this week after dipping below $4 in April, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine is the main catalyst for the surge in gasoline prices. The war has also driven up global good prices.
Inflation was already a problem before Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine because of stretched global supply chains as economies emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic after governments around the world injected large amounts of money in pandemic relief and central banks slashed interest rates.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday acknowledged the pain that high inflation was inflicting on American families and said bringing prices down “is my top domestic priority.”
The Fed last week raised its policy interest rate by half a percentage point, the biggest hike in 22 years, and said it would begin trimming its bond holdings next month. The U.S. central bank started raising rates in March.
In the 12 months through April, the CPI increased 8.3%. While that was the first deceleration in the annual CPI since last August, it marked the seventh straight month of increases in excess of 6%. The CPI shot up 8.5% in March, the largest year-on-year gain since December 1981.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer prices gaining 0.2% in April and rising 8.1% year-on-year.
While monthly inflation will likely pickup, annual readings are likely to subside further as last year’s large increases fall out of the calculation, but remaining above the Fed’s 2% target at least through 2023.
China’s zero tolerance COVID-19 policy is seen putting more strain on global supply chains, driving up goods prices. Prices for services like air travel and hotel accommodation are also seen keeping inflation elevated amid both strong demand over the summer and a shortage of workers.
Solid gains in rents, airline fares and new motor vehicle prices boosted underlying inflation last month.
Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI picked up 0.6% after rising 0.3% in March. The so-called core CPI increased 6.2% in the 12-months through April. That followed a 6.5% jump in March, which was largest gain since August 1982.